Advertisers sit tight as the Grammys strikes a sour note

Accusations of sexual misconduct and vote rigging, and a sudden change at the top of the Recording Academy org chart, may threaten to sour festivities at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards, but the backstage drama is unlikely to have a material impact on CBS’s Sunday night broadcast. Advertisers have not wavered in their support of the show, which is expected to bring in one of the year’s largest audiences for a non-sporting event.

Last Thursday, just 10 days before the music business was set to revel in its annual televised celebration of itself, Recording Academy president and CEO Deborah Dugan was placed on administrative leave. Four days later, Dugan filed a lawsuit against her former employer, alleging that she was sidelined only after raising allegations of sexual harassment and “other improprieties.”

Dugan’s full complaint may be found here. Included in the legal document are details of her own experience of sexual harassment and a number of issues having to do with alleged voting irregularities that would seem to suggest that certain judges on the Grammy committee are less than impartial. (If Dugan’s claims hold any water, Ed Sheeran and Ariana Grande may have a bone to pick with the Academy.)

For its part, the Academy says Dugan was suspended for fostering an “abusive work environment.” In the run-up to what normally serves as a jubilee, both parties have spent the last several days blasting each other in the press; Dugan on Thursday took her fight to ABC’s “Good Morning America,” where she spoke at length about the allegations she’s made. At the end of the segment, Dugan told “GMA” host George Stephanopoulos that despite all the ongoing rancor, she still plans to watch this year’s show.

“So we can all watch in good conscience as well?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“Yes, I think so,” Dugan said.

Certainly the Grammys advertisers don’t have any misgivings about their role within the program. One buyer with a client that has a 30-second spot lined up for Sunday night’s broadcast says the behind-the-scenes nature of the controversy isn’t the sort of thing that will push many viewers away from the tube.

“It’s not a content issue, is the thing,” the buyer says. “It’s not as if the Grammys decided to give a lifetime achievement award to somebody like R. Kelly. Something like that, something controversial that would be seen by millions and millions of people—no advertiser wants to be within 100 miles of. The Academy situation, while obviously unfortunate, is also more abstract.”

That the Dugan story broke the week before the Grammys broadcast made it all the more improbable that marketers would look to back out of their commitments with CBS. “Given the short lead time, there wasn’t a lot of time for advertisers to cancel,” says Jon Swallen, chief research officer at Kantar Media, who added that a last-minute change in plans of this magnitude could have an out-sized impact on the client’s marketing strategy. “There just aren’t too many places where you can make up those impressions.”

And those impressions are significant. According to iSpot.tv estimates, last year’s Grammyscast served up 1.67 billion impressions for the likes of Lincoln Motor Company, Walt Disney Pictures, Google, Apple, McDonald’s, Pepsi and Ford. Although the show’s demo deliveries have fallen in accordance with declining TV usage among younger consumers, the 7.18 million adults 18-49 CBS reached was more than six times the size of the demo served up by the average network scripted series.

Excluding sports, the 2019 Grammys was the year’s sixth most-watched broadcast (19.9 million live-same-day viewers). Toss the NFL, college football bowl games and the World Series back into the mix and the 191-minute show was the year’s 49th most-watched transmission.

Performances from top pop, hip-hop and R&B artists has helped make the Grammys the youngest-skewing awards show on broadcast television—the show last year delivered an audience with a median age of 52.5 years, making it slightly dewier than the Oscars (55.6), Golden Globes (56.3) and Emmys (57.5)—and this year’s show will be positively awash in young blood. Among the artists nominated for Album of the Year are 18-year-old Billie Eilish, 20-year-old Lil Nas X, 24-year-old Post Malone, 26-year-old Ariana Grande and 31-year-old Lizzo. Eilish, Grande and Lizzo are also slated to perform on Sunday night, while rock dinosaurs Aerosmith will fly the wrinkly boomer banner.

If all the younger acts may serve to help energize the Grammys, the lack of established hitmakers may not sit well with less-adventurous viewers. The absence of superstars such as Taylor Swift, Adele and chronic absentee Kanye West may prove to be a barrier to entry for more casual music fans. And while the show’s producers are expected to serve up plenty of reaction shots of Beyoncé, the woman who has won 23 Grammys over the course of her career is unlikely to add to her trophy collection.

In other words, the set list in all likelihood poses a more significant threat to the Grammys ratings than does the developing story about the Recording Academy. But, however things shake out on Sunday night, the assessment of Dugan’s attorney doesn’t have a firm foothold in reality. (“The Grammys really is on life support right now,” the lawyer blustered at the tail end of the “GMA” segment.)

According to Kantar estimates, the cost of a 30-second spot in the 2019 Grammyscast averaged out to some $720,000 per unit, down 25 percent from the previous broadcast. CBS in last year’s show aired 39.5 minutes of paid ads, raking in some $57 million in sales revenue. Kantar’s averages are based on information gleaned from the media agencies; per CBS’s own accounting, units in the most recent Grammys broadcast were priced north of $1 million a pop.

As with the Academy Awards, the Grammys over the years has emerged as a proving ground for new creative, as marketers look to cash in on a scale and reach that is all but impossible to find outside of top-tier sporting events. Among the brands that will be debuting fresh spots during Sunday’s broadcast are IBM, Coors Light and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the latter of which will use its Grammys buy to launch a new slogan.

CBS’s presentation of the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards kicks off Sunday, Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. ET with an hour of Red Carpet coverage, while the festivities are set to begin at 8 p.m. ET.

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